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Are the People of Stoke Newington Still Liberal When Gyspies Come to Town?

We went to find out.

This context is probably only necessary for "outsiders", but North London's Stoke Newington is notorious in the city for being a weirdly nice village full of ageing hippies, muesli-munching power-mums and liberal dads who dress like kid's TV presenters. I mean, Stoke Newington is so middle class that a few years ago people there launched a campaign to block the opening of a Nando's, and Nando's is the sort of place my parents used to take me to when we felt like celebrating something. Way to make me feel ashamed of my past, people of N16. Given all that, and the fact that The Guardian is pretty much required reading over there, one might have thought that the small band of Irish travellers that have recently settled in the area would be welcomed with open arms by the locals. So we went up to join in with the welcoming party.


Adrian, 52, dad: I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I suppose they need to have a place to stay, but this is not a very appropriate place. It’s not very big. I mean, my son was going to play with his boomerang but we were just too worried that it would smash one of their windows or something.

Have you heard of many grievances outside of Stoke Newington's boomerang throwing community?
Look, I don’t know what the law is but I think someone from the council needs to come down and find out what’s going on. People round here should stay quiet. There might be "consequences".

Charlie, 22, bar staff: I’m originally from Norfolk and there are a lot of them up there. I don’t like the community at all, to be honest. Yeah, what don’t you like about them?
Dunno, they used to come to our house and try to steal stuff and start trouble in my school. So to you, they're just a bunch of untrustworthy criminals?
Yeah, exactly. If a mob formed and tried to drive them out forcefully, would you get involved?
Not forcefully, but… [his bus shows up] bye!

Danielle, 43, TV director: I’m OK with it. I’m quite a liberal person. If you live in London you have to be prepared to live with different people. Does that mean we should be more open-minded and tolerant?
Definitely. People are very prejudiced against travellers, and that programme, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, hasn’t helped. It’s such a lazy stereotype, everyone is basically sneering at them. Do you think their lifestyle is acceptable?
Yeah. Nobody likes litter or squalor, but you know, what can you do?


VICE: Are you cool with the travellers moving into Newington Common?
Terry, 60, electrical contractor: No, they throw rubbish and they don’t clean it! Plus the police won't go near them because they are frightened. Why do you think they've chosen this small area to settle on?
Because it’s free, they don’t want to pay rent… They call themselves travellers, so why don’t they go travel? Why are they staying in one place? You're right, they should really be in perpetual motion at all times. Are the local people OK with them being here?
No, they're not. I wouldn’t be surprised if they set a couple of the caravans alight soon. What, really?!
They've done it before. What, round here?
Yeah, ten years ago. Jesus, I guess Stoke Newington has a shadier past than I'd imagined.

VICE: Do you like the travellers being here?
Ms Patel, 48, shop owner: I don’t think anybody likes them, to be honest. Stoke Newington is quite a liberal area though, isn’t it?
Yes, people are very open-minded and friendly around here. So this is kind of demonstrating that it’s an open-minded community, but that this is a step too far?
Yes, we were all talking about them yesterday, and nobody likes it.

VICE: So, what do you think about the travellers?
James, 44, head vicar: I think an eviction order has been given to them today, but personally I would like to go and talk to them first before I pontificate. Do you think people are judging them too early?
At the moment I don’t have enough information. What kind of information would contribute to your decision?
Well, for example, someone has nicked this in the last week [points at a metal sign for maths and English classes at the local church] and someone tried to nick it again today. Now if that’s linked to them, I’m not happy about them, not happy at all.


How do you feel about their presence?
Susan, 61, therapist: I’ve got mixed feelings, really. I sort of think, 'Fair enough, people should be allowed to live that lifestyle.' But then again, they make loads of mess and then they just move on. It's not very nice. So you don’t really approve of their lifestyle?
I used to live near a mountain range, and there were some who used to live there. I thought, 'You know what, we can’t all be expected to live the same way, we all have different needs.' What should happen is there should be more places for people to live like that. Then we wouldn’t have them looking for any green space all the time. Do you think this place has the potential to become the new Dale Farm?
No, it’s not big enough.

Karma Dondrub, 46, Buddhist monk (left): The problem is there’s too many rich land owners, so there’s nowhere for the travellers to go. The travellers have been on the road for at least 900 years. You can’t erase a culture just because you won’t let them stay somewhere where they need to stay. Everybody knows that you don’t muck about with travellers. They have their own code of ethics. They do that three-wheeled thing with horses in the middle of the road. Do you think there should be some discourse between the travellers and the government?
No because the travellers are sick of speaking to the government, because they’ve got their own agenda. And their own agenda is, make sure everybody’s in a little rabbit hutch [points to nearby flats]. They want to know where everybody is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for the rest of their life. America – bio-metric implants. A nine-digit computerised cylinder that goes under your skin. They’ve been field testing that for the last 15 years. It’s coming here. Really?
Come on! It’s coming here and you know it. In the next 25 years, you will be forced to have it. Now that’s an infringement on everybody’s civil liberties. It’s not just about Gypsies. So, the government don’t like travellers because they don’t know where they are?
That’s right! Travellers want to travel free. They’re not going to cause any trouble, because they’re a bit like the Scottish, they work on three rules. One: they don’t run. Two: they stand their ground. And three: they’ll fight to the last man standing. Now unfortunately, the Metropolitan pussy squad – or the Nazi squad, as I like to call them – have got 50,000 warriors armed to the teeth. They’ve got S019 carrying two, TWO hand guns. One here and one here, in case they get shot in the arm. They teach them to shoot two-handed. Every single call you make, every text you send; it all goes into a central database. You’re making me feel paranoid now.
No I’m understanding the situation. I’m never paranoid. A tiger goes through the jungle [starts acting like a tiger walking through the jungle, sensing danger]. It hears, it sees, it senses, because paranoia is a heightened sense of awareness. Everybody’s unique and individual in their own right. Don’t try and treat the travellers, or anybody, as caged animals. Because we’re free in here [points to heart] and we’re free in here [points to head]. I’ll give you karmic law in 16 words: “What we think, what we do, what we say is karmic effect for all sentient life forms on an omniversal level.” Er…OK? I think that was more than 16 words.
Well that’s right. It’s 100 percent right. It’s one hundred trillion percent right. Just let the travellers live, man. Let us live in peace. Don’t go to war with the travellers. You could even say a homeless person is a traveller. I was homeless for eight years by choice. Why? To learn about humanity. I’ve been a Buddhist monk for 18 years. I’ve been Shaolin 12 years, but I’m not going to say I’ve saved 12 people's lives. I’ve tried to be a simple, humble man.

Follow Simon and Kareem on Twitter: @simonchilds13 and @kareem_ghezawi

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